What is a Veterinary Rehabilitation Evaluation?

Written by Jennifer Rouse, DVM CCRP Aug 17 • 3 minute read

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What is a veterinary rehabilitation evaluation and why can't we go straight to treatment if we already know what's wrong with my pet? 

The goal of rehabilitation is to restore, maintain, and promote optimal function, optimal fitness, wellness, and quality of life for any given patient as they relate to movement disorders and health. As such, while your pet may have a diagnosis of a post op cruciate stabilization (as an example) your pet's pathophysiologic diagnosis may include things like: not bearing weight on the affected limb, decreased range of motion of the joint, inflammation, pain and edema of the affected area, reduced muscle mass at the affected limb...and other similar functional diagnoses. By identifying a patient's individual problems in a list, it allows the therapist to determine what needs to be addressed to increase use of a limb and decrease pain. This appointment is usually very detailed as a first visit will collect a significant amount of information regarding your pet's condition. It is generally best to allow for more time for this appointment than is usually expected for future treatment appointments. 

What can I expect for my pet's rehabilitation evaluation?

Since our goals are to identify and treat any functional problems with your pet, it is generally important for us to review medical records involved in your pet's prior veterinary work up. Having this information allows us to take into account what type of surgery was performed or what injury occurred so that we can evaluate your pet in light of what typical problems can occur in those types of cases. It is best to obtain those records ahead of the visit so that the therapist can review the information in preparation for your time in clinic and improve efficiency in evaluating your pet.  

On arrival, if you haven't already sent videos or pictures, we will usually want to observe how your pet stands, walks and changes positions (sit to down, sit to stand, etc.) This helps to begin the functional evaluation and aids us in zeroing in on what issues your pet needs to have addressed.  After a brief introduction to your pet, we will often start with feeling your pet in a variety of areas to determine if there are any sore spots both related to the direct area of concern and other areas that can get sore due to compensation for a limb that is not functioning properly. (Think about when you are limping on one leg and your other leg gets sore or tired due to overuse.) This exam also includes checking the range of motion of each joint, evaluating for instabilities in ligaments and tendons, and assessing for any restrictions in movement (for example: fascial restrictions, bony blocks due to arthritis build up, adhesions, etc.) Measurements of joint angles are often taken at this appointment and used to compare to future values to track treatment progress. Limb circumference is another measure that we use to evaluate muscle gain and is often taken as well.   

While the therapist is evaluating your pet, they are often starting the first treatment for problems that are identified. Manual treatments such as myofascial release, massage, traction and mobilizations are often implemented during this exam to help treat problems that we identify. As both the need and time allows, it is also common to use modalities such as laser therapy at this appointment to help reduce inflammation and pain and stimulate the healing process. The final part of the evaluation includes setting up a treatment plan based on your pet's identified needs and discussing "homework" that you and your pet can do in between visits. This plan may include things like controlled leash walks of a set duration, special exercises like 3 legged stands, and a stretching program that you perform on your pet. 

The final component of your pet's evaluation happens after you leave and we communicate with your veterinarian. Findings and a treatment plan are sent to the patient's referring veterinarian so that we can work as a team to identify, treat and monitor problems in your pet's movement and comfort. 

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